Column: A Non-Traditional Path To Success

June 17, 2015

[Written by Cindy Campbell, Executive Vice President, Strategic Development, the Argus Group]

It seems appropriate in this season of graduations and new beginnings to look at how I came to have a wide variety of jobs, including my current position as Executive Vice President of Strategic Development for the Argus Group. Having majored in the performing arts, I had one of those “what-are-you-going-to-do-with-that?” undergraduate degrees. I am sure that my parents wondered if I was going to be able to pay the rent. But over the years, I discovered that my “non-traditional” degree and related experience have been some of my most important business assets.

One of the most exciting aspects of my professional life is that I have held a variety of different positions. On the operations side, I have headed up accounting, marketing and IT departments and from the revenue side, I led the Argus Group Life and Health Division and AFL Investments.

You may be asking yourself, “what could a creative degree bring to these business positions?”

We live in a world that has become very specialised, but there is real merit in non-traditional paths into the business world. Non-traditional paths allow you to view situations and challenges from an entirely different perspective. You are not limited by the text book business solution because your brain has been taught to look at situations differently. This perspective can be extremely useful in creating value and solutions for your employer.

One common business buzz phrase is “think outside the box” but, if you don’t have a traditional business degree, you are automatically thinking outside the box. It is easier to be innovative and creative when you have a different orientation. To give a concrete example from my own career, when I headed up the Group Health division, annual medical inflation was in the double digits. The traditional business approach would focus on cutting costs. Thinking “outside of the box”, Argus instead developed a wellness programme for every health client. We felt that the best way to reduce costs over the long term was to help people get healthier. To this day, Argus continues to be the leading innovator in helping to provide the tools that will enable clients to remain healthy or get healthier.

Now don’t get the wrong impression, if you are going to work in a business environment, you need to obtain the skills for that industry. In addition to my non-traditional degree, I was willing to seek out additional education and certificates which included an MBA and CPA. I could not have held the jobs I have had without those learned skills, but I believe one of the main reasons I was able to advance and be successful is due to my non-traditional experience and creative thinking.

Being well rounded in an increasingly specialised world can have significant advantages.

So, if you have just graduated with a non-traditional business degree and you are beginning to look for work in a traditional business environment, analyse how the skills you have gained can benefit a potential employer and share that insight in your cover letters and your interviews. Know that your creative thinking is an asset, but be willing to get more education to gain the technical skills needed for the business you are seeking to work with.

Just in case you wanted to know, my undergraduate degree is in theatre. My first jobs were as the set and costume designer for a professional children’s theatre company and as the production stage manager for a regional opera company. And they set me up well to develop my career from there.

Cindy Campbell is Executive Vice President, Strategic Development for the Argus Group. Ms Campbell has over 30 years’ experience in senior management roles. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Davidson College and a MBA from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. Ms Campbell is a Certified Public Accountant [CPA]. In addition to her business roles, Ms Campbell has served on numerous charitable boards focusing on health, youth and the homeless.

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